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Will there be war with Iran?

Ramin Jahanbegloo | Updated on: 29 May 2019, 10:31 IST
Trump Rouhani

The Middle East is going through turbulent times. The month of May started with the White House announcement of the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a U.S. Air Force bomber task force to the Middle East in response to "clear indications” that Iranian forces planned to attack U.S. or allied troops. The U.S. policy of “maximum pressure” has seen the U.S. withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization, and cancel the waivers that allowed China, India, and Turkey (among others) to import Iranian crude oil.

The U.S. will work with its Arab partners in the Persian Gulf, not only to ensure freedom of navigation, but also to pressure Iran’s illicit shipments of oil and weapons. This is only the beginning of the struggle between the U.S. and Iran. Moreover, despite the good intentions of the European leaders to stop a future war in the region, the situation may be approaching a point of no return. As tensions between Iran and the U.S. continue to become tighter every day, the world’s fear is that there is great possibility that only by one mistake an incident can cause the war to start and then no one can stop it.

There is also the possibility that other actors such as Saudi Arabia or Israel may instigate a military conflict that would bring US and Iran to fight each other. Similarly, a Tonkin like false flag operation may create a situation that war is inevitable. One way or another, the threat of war in the Persian Gulf is real, as far as the National Security actors in Washington, D.C. are concerned.

An important issue here is that Iran refuses to negotiate with the United States after it pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal and reinstated stifling economic sanctions on Tehran. “No, there is no possibility for negotiations,” Mohammad Javad Zarif answered when asked in an interview with Kyodo News and other Japanese news outlets in Tokyo. Zarif, who met last week with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Foreign Minister Taro Kono, called the United States a “bully” for pressuring countries like Japan and India to adhere to its economic sanctions including a ban on buying Iranian oil.

As for China, it has restated buying Iranian oil in defiance of President Trump's sanctions. On the same day that Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif traveled to Beijing for talks on Iran-US tensions, the Chinese oil tanker PACIFIC BRAVO loaded approximately 2 million barrels of Iranian oil from the Soroosh and Kharg terminals in the Persian Gulf. As such, China joins Russia in order to support bilateral economic ties with Iran. For its part, Tehran appears to be trying hard to further undermine America’s unity with its allies.

On May 14, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei stated: “There won’t be any war. The Iranian nation has chosen the path of resistance. We don’t seek a war, and they don’t either. They know it’s not in their interests.” Though it is hard to believe that there could be a change of heart on the U.S. side, one can hope that Iranian authorities would find ways to work with the Trump administration.

Let us not forget that on April 24, just days after the oil waivers were revoked, Zarif offered to negotiate a prisoner exchange with the United States and stressed that the U.S. president seems keen to talk to Tehran. Trump himself recently opened up to the possibility of direct talks with the Iranian leadership. Last Friday, after two weeks of intense crisis, a senior American administration official emphasized that President Trump is open to talks with Iranian leaders, while continuing to apply increasing economic and other pressures on the Iranian regime. 

The U.S. has demanded that Iran take a number of steps, including abandoning its missile programs, withdrawing from Syria and ending support to allied groups such as Hezbollah, before it will ease sanctions. However, at present, there are no contacts between the US and the Iranian government. But what if President Trump’s current approach toward Iran does not succeed and carries risks of miscalculation? This is where both Iran and the US are going to face some very difficult choices.

Last but not least, tensions between Washington and Tehran might take longer than think. In that case, it will be a slow death for the Islamic regime in Iran and for the Iranian people. The evident danger to this “slow death” strategy is that Iran will also engage in forcing its “red lines” on the US and its allies in the Middle East. The authorities of Tehran know that an eventual confrontation between Iran and the US is bad for global business, but if they feel that they are the only losers in the game, they will resort to terrorism on Saudi and Israeli soils to take down with them any nation which has planned their end.

First published: 29 May 2019, 10:31 IST